by Donald Charles Lotz
PCHS Newsletter – Summer/Fall 1988
Passaic County celebrated the 150th anniversary of its formation in 1987, but if some residents of Paterson had their way in 1928, Paterson county and not Passaic county would be 160 years old in 1988.
During February 1828, residents of Paterson held several public meetings at Ira Munn’s hotel to discuss “the Act of Incorporation of the Town of Paterson” and other important topics. At their last meeting, they decided to file an application with “the legislature” for the errection of a new county, to be called the County of Paterson, and to be composed of parts of the counties of Essex, Bergen and Morris.
Paterson’s residents needed the support of the surrounding townships in order to petition the legislature to create the county of Paterson. A public notice, signed by “A. CITIZEN,” appeared in the Paterson Intelligencer and invited “the inhabitants of the townships of ACQUACKANONK, CALDWELL, PEQUANONK (sic), POMPTON and SADDLE RIVER….to meet at Munn’s Hotel in Paterson on Thursday, the 14th day of February…..to take into consideration the propriety of setting off the above named Townships into a new County.” The inhabitants met “agreeable to public notice” and established the boundary lines of the new county. They also formed “a committee to obtain signatures to a petition” of those in favor of the new county.
An article advocating “The formation of a new county,” appeared in the Paterson Intelligencer on Feburary 20, 1828. The author wrote, “This measure appears to be loudly called for by a dense and numerous population, suffering all the inconveniences of a location far removed from their seat of justice….” He also stressed that “no time should be lost by our citizens in taking the necessary preliminary steps” to gain their intended object.
The Intelligencer also printed a ‘NOTICE” that announced “an application will be mae to the Legislature of the State, at their present session, to pass a law to set off and errect parts or the whole of the Townships of Acquackanonk, Caldwell, Pequanonk (sic), Pompton and Saddle River, into a new County, by the name of the county of Paterson….” The population of each township in 1820 appeared with the notice. Adding an estimated increase of 25 percent, the “population of the proposed County of Paterson” was estimated to be 17,884 in 1828.
The next meeting convened at Mrs. Weller’s residence on February 20, 1828. The citizens received the reports of the different township committees and proposed “to do any other business deemed requisite to further the object.”
“A General Meeting” of the citizens interested in forming Paterson County assembled again at Mrs. Weller’s house on February 27th, and adopted “such measures as are necessary for the transmission of the Petitions for that purpose to the Legislature for their immediate consideration.” The petitioners explained how the establishment of the county of Paterson would be advantageous to them and could be “effected without any inconvenience or disadvantage to other parts of the state.”
Paterson, with its “two banks, above thirty shops….and other appendages of a thriving and improving town,” seemed to be the logical choice for the county seat. The inhabitants of the surrounding townships already had business connections “with the inhabitants of the said town (of Paterson) and would find great advantage from the Courts of justice being held” there.
The bill to create Paterson county received little support in the legislature. On February 2, 1829, the Intelligercer reported that the bill to create the county of Paterson “was read and postponed.” Bergen County legislators, fearful they would lose portions of Pompton and Saddle River townships to the new county, presented their own petition“against the new County of Paterson.”
Southern legislators also opposed the bill, because the new county would upset the balance of power between the industrial north and rural southern counties. A legislative power struggle ensued, with the southern faction blocking any attempt to form a new county in the northern part of the state.
The struggle continued until “a delegation from Paterson and Acquackanonk Townships…..journeyed to Trenton to…..petition the legislature” in January 1837. a compromise was reached, which maintained the balance of power in the legislature. Atlantic County was created in South Jersey and Passaic County was created in North Jersey; thus ending a nine year struggle to form the county of Paterson.